Stop Securing the Border and Start Valuing Migrants’ Lives

by David L. Wilson, Truthout | News Analysis –

helicopter border patrol

A helicopter patrols the US-Mexico border near Campo, California, May 17, 2007. (Photo: Qbac07)

US billionaire and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is not the only politician intent on barricading the southwestern border of the United States. Calls for “regaining control of our border” are commonplace in US political discourse, routinely repeated by both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. The most recent proposal for “comprehensive immigration reform” is a good example. The bill, which passed the Senate in June 2013 but was blocked by House Republicans as “dangerously liberal,” included provisions for doubling the current number of Border Patrol agents and adding $30 billion to the border enforcement budget over the next ten years.

The general public overwhelmingly backs these calls for more enforcement. While a survey the Pew Research Center conducted in May found respondents generally supportive of immigrants – 72 percent said undocumented people now living here should be allowed to stay – 80 percent thought “a lot” or “more” could be done to reduce unauthorized immigration at the borders.

This support continues despite a complete lack of evidence that an increase is necessary or that it would be effective – or even that there’s an actual “crisis” of people crossing the border. What the facts show, on the contrary, is that the current policy is expensive and counterproductive and needs to be rolled back.

The Buildup on the Border

The US government began stepping up border enforcement in the mid-1980s. There were a total of 2,268 Border Patrol agents in 1980; by 2012 the Border Patrol had funding for 21,370 agents, nearly 10 times as many as 20 years earlier. The Border Patrol’s annual budget was $263 million in 1990; by 2014 it had jumped thirteen-fold to $3.6 billion. The Border Patrol is only one part of Customs and Border Protection, the agency that handles border enforcement; Customs and Border Protection’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 was $13.1 billion, nearly twice what it was just a decade earlier.

When politicians demand a border wall, they fail to note that the US had already built 651 miles of fencing as of February 2012; the estimated cost of the fence’s construction and its maintenance over the next 20 years is $6.5 billion. When they demand a “crackdown” on border crossing, the politicians don’t mention that the government has been imposing criminal sentences on border crossers since 2005; the program, code-named “Operation Streamline,” had processed 208,939 people by the end of 2012. While it’s hard to estimate the total bill for Streamline, it could be costing us as much as $300 million a year just through the increase it has created in the federal prison population.

It seems fair to ask what this massive border build-up has accomplished. In fact, for most of the time that border enforcement was being stepped up, the number of undocumented immigrants in the country was increasing dramatically; the unauthorized population tripled between 1990 and 2008, from 3.5 million to 11.9 million.



Reprinted with permission from Truthout